Category: Writing

Uneven Ground

uneven ground

[heads-up: mild body horror]

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Cover of the May 2013 issue of the Whitman Quarterlife magazine

Talking About Elephants

I’ve been meaning to ask:

You see this elephant too, right?

But every time I stick my neck out
and peer around his boulderous bulk,
you’re looking back at me.

It seems a shame to ruin the moment
by talking about elephants.



In third grade,
Sterling Miller flipped a penny 30 times
and got 30 heads,
I watched it.

I’ve never believed in God, but I know He plays dice,
that every moment is another spin of the slot machine,
and that there are no miracles,
only statistically significant improbabilities.

I’ve spent so long listening to the sermons
of the statisticians, the scientists, and the skeptics
that I never attribute to intention
what has a chance of being chance.

Are you really looking for me?

Do you actually see this elephant too?

Or does the penny just keep coming up heads?



The butterfly you pin to the board is lifeless.
You kill the cat by opening the box.
Merely by observing,
we change the outcome.

I’ve been meaning to ask:

You see this elephant too, right?

But maybe there’s no elephant at all,
maybe these legs are tree trunks,
this tail, a rope,
the trunk, a snake.

I don’t ask if you see the elephant,
because what does it mean

if you don’t?

Published in quarterlife, vol. 7, iss. 4: the troll issue (Whitman College, May 2013). Cover image by Bo Erickson, used with permission. Thanks, Bo!

(Yeah, I got my poetry published!)

Sexcetera - Spring 2013

Sexcetera: The Spring 2013 grand list

[Spencer’s note: No, I’m totally not posting in Fall 2014 a post that should have been made in Spring 2013. Of course not! Why would you think that?]

Like I mentioned in the last one of these, I write an opinion column in my school’s newspaper, The Pioneer, called “Sexcetera.” It’s a column on relationships, sex, and sexuality, from a perspective I’m trying to keep sex-positive, feminist, and inclusive. I’ve been doing it all year, but save for the last compendium, I haven’t really mentioned it here on the blog.

Here’s a directory of the things I wrote in my last semester of college (and the last semester of Sexcetera).

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Sexcetera - Fall 2012

Sexcetera: The Fall 2012 grand list

I write an opinion column in my school’s newspaper, The Pioneer, called “Sexcetera.” It’s a column on relationships, sex, and sexuality, from a perspective I’m trying to keep sex-positive, feminist, and inclusive. I’ve been doing it for months, but (perhaps unsurprisingly, given my tendency to get busy and neglect the blog), I haven’t mentioned it at all here.

Since it would be silly to post each individual column now, I figured I’d post a general directory of what I’ve written this semester.

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A silver Parker Jotter ballpoint pen

Open Letter to My Departed Pen

Parker Jotter pen

Dear Parker Jotter #4:

We both know you weren’t my first Jotter. That was in middle school, when I shared the joys of writing in a journal with another. By the time we had met, you and I had nothing new to show each other. We were both seasoned pros.

And yet, my memories with you are unparalleled. For years, you fit in my shirt pockets and pants pockets, ready to leap out and, with a satisfying click of your spring-loaded plunger, smoothly glide across my paper, leaving a crisp black trail of ink. You were my totem, my personal prop–I knew you better than anything else I owned, and as the years went on, a part of my soul nestled itself in your barrel, wrapped snugly around your stainless steel cartridge. You were a part of me, and I was a part of you.

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Literary Sketchbook: Michael Crane

Here’s a little bit of an idea that’s been in my head for a little bit.  I may develop this idea more in the future.

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Another free-write. I really like this one. Don’t know why.

She could hear the crowd, chattering and cheering, through the flapping walls of the striped tent. The elephants trumpeted, parading around the ring. She watched it in her mind’s eye, following every step of the routine she knew so well. There; the elephant stood on its hind legs, and the audience clapped. Then; another elephant balanced itself on a ball, and the clamoring crowds applauded appropriately. She recited it in her head the way that some people mentally replay films. The girl had the better experience, however: her mental movies were matched with real sound.

The crowd was good tonight, she noticed. They wanted to have a good time, to laugh, and to be awed. It varied from night to night. Sometimes, the crowds were only looking for enjoyment, and they found it under the big top, more than they could have possibly imagined. Other times, audiences took their seats skeptical, with preconceived notions that muddied their experiences. Some came in angry, unwilling to chuckle or even smile. Others arrived in varying stages of heartbreak and depression. They told themselves they wouldn’t find any fun in the circus, predictions that tended to be self-fulfilling. You get what you expect, she told herself, unless you open your mind.

Involuntarily, she sighed. Open minds were growing harder and harder to find, not just inside the tent, but in her entire world. It seemed that everywhere she looked, there were pundits spouting barbed condemnations. People from the Middle East were terrorists. People of faith were opinionated fundamentalists. Homosexuals were bizarre contortions of nature, and if you didn’t vote, you were a communist.

It wasn’t only adults spewing hatred, either. The children of the closed-minded often grew with visions as narrow as those of their parents. This was obvious in no place more than high school, where bigoted teens were quick to cast their judgments upon classmates that were even the merest bit unusual. A friend of hers had been singled out for tucking his shirt in. Wary of this, she and Nat had tried to keep their love discreet, but the ever-sniffing nose of society found them, and exposed how different they were from the rest.

Though an autumn gust nipping at her bare arms and legs caused the girl to shiver in her costume, the thought of Natalie warmed her insides. Natalie had made her understand the feeling of love, not the petty high school drama of relationships around them. With Nat standing beside her the entire time, she had broken down the walls that had contained her and restrained her for so long. Natalie had helped set her free.

The tent roared with thunderous cheering as the ringmaster narrated the elephants’ exit. Poised, the girl stood waiting for her cue. From within, the ringmaster’s deep silky voice wove the girl’s welcome, and she stepped into the humid tent to the gaze of a spotlight and the gracious applause of two thousand hands clapping.

Adrenaline, the nectar of courage and confidence, flooded her veins once again, and she boldly strode to the ladder.

The ringmaster’s booming tone lent to the audience tales of the girl’s achievements, grandly exaggerated in the traditional manner of the big top. His resounding bass voice painted pictures of death-defying leaps from canyon walls and mountain faces. The crowd, stupefied, listened with awe. They had no clue that the esteemed girl of these yarns, who was currently scaling the skyscraper of a ladder, had a home in the very city they were in.

Being with Natalie had brought the girl more in touch with herself. Soon, she found within herself talents, passions, and dreams she had never imagined she could have. She began playing the harp, something that she would not have been caught dead with a year ago. The local theatre troupe found itself visited by an eager, talented young woman. It was as if Natalie had unlocked a door the girl had never known existed. The summer of that year, the circus came to town. It set up in an abandoned industrial parking lot by the river, and everyone crossing the bridges saw it. The girl went to watch the first weekend it was performing, and was captivated. She found a magic world beneath the behemoth canvas tent, where gaiety was the norm and the impossible was regularly proved otherwise. After the final show, the girl, thanks to Nat’s gentle persuasion, approached the ringmaster and asked if she could audition for a role. He had declined originally, but slowly gave in. The girl auditioned fantastically, and left with the circus for a year.

She reached the platform at the top of the ladder, towering so high above that she could barely discern faces in the audience. Slowly, she reached for and gripped the trapeze, with a silent acknowledgment that this could be the last time she ever did what she was about to do. She stepped to the edge of the platform.

Tomorrow, she would go back to school. Her senior year. She would face the taunting masses, and she would stand tall, proud of who she was and what she had done. The words of the narrow-minded were only that, words, and she was no longer afraid. She was who she was, and no one could take that from her.

She looked down at them. They gazed back up at her, ready to be blown away. All of the women, the men, the children, the elderly; all the blacks, the whites, the Hispanics and the Asians; all the lovers and the fighters; all the believers and the skeptics sat on the edges of their seats, elated, waiting for her to astonish them with the impossible. And there, in a corner, her beautiful face watching the girl’s every move, radiating a warmth she could feel at the top of the ladder, was Natalie, waiting softly and patiently.

The girl took a breath, and flew.


Literary Sketchbook: The Island

Most certainly influenced by the Decemberists’ “The Island”. And Lemony Snicket’s The End. And my recent surge in fascination with pirates. I blame this on all of them.

Somewhere, in the middle of a black ocean under a black sky, an island slept, the sands of its shallow shores gently caressed by the unceasing tides. Above, in shadowy heavens, the stark face of the moon cast a pale luminescence upon the beach. The waves swept the sands with soft hushes. The breath of the light tropical breeze quietly rustled the leaves of the palms. An air of serenity laid over the island, as if it had never known disturbance and never would.

There were no people on the island. There had been before, however; castaways were no strangers to its shores. Some of them had managed to survive, leaving nothing but footprints on the isle. Others left much more, never seeing their families or homes again. Many had gone mad and killed themselves, either by the noose, by diving off the cliff, or, if they had been lucky, with a pistol. In the end, their remembrances quickly vanished, consumed by natural forces– footprints blew away and corpses were claimed by the earth.

The empty island slumbered. The many exotic birds that lived in the jungle dozed on their perches, their heads tucked into their wings. Sleep caught the few mammals that lived on the island, quietly pulling them into its grasp. Another breeze stirred the palm trees, shaded black with night’s brush. The waves rolled in, splashing the shore. The waves receded, leaving pinpoints of seawater glistening in the moonlight. The waves rolled in, and placed upon the beach a large wooden chest, along with the unconscious man clinging desperately to it.

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